“We are built to conquer environments, solve problems, achieve goals, and we find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve.” “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” ~Khalil Gibran
Conquering unchartered waters and environments, achieving goals and giving back has been the life work of Dr. Jacqueline El-Sayed. As a professor, newly elected Bloomfield Hills school board member, wife, and mother of three, Dr. El-Sayed wears many hats. One would wonder how she finds the time, between running her first campaign for public office, teaching, and family life, but Dr. El-Sayed says she’s an energetic person by nature. “My mother said I was born with a lot of energy” said Dr. El-Sayed. She has channeled that energy to break stereotypes, achieve great goals, and give back to her community. She inspires people to dream bigger, push the limits, overcome obstacles and achieve whatever goals one sets for one’s self.
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Jacqueline El-Sayed is a professor of mechanical engineering and the Richard L. Terrell Professor of Excellence in Teaching at Kettering University, recognized for educational excellence. “I believe that teaching is a type of calling, and individuals who dedicate their lives to education leave a legacy to the world through their students.” Dr. El-Sayed said. The fields with in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have few women and mechanical engineering has among the lowest percentage, so Dr. El-Sayed had few women role models while pursuing three degrees in mechanical engineering, and while on the faculty tenure track. But, in spite of this, she became the first woman in the history of her university to gain a positive recommendation from the Department of Mechanical Engineering for full professor, the highest faculty rank. In the year that she was promoted, Kettering University reported that only one percent of all full professors of mechanical engineering in the country were women. In addition to teaching and scholarship, she has served the university as the elected leader of University faculty senate, a member of the University promotion committee and the chair of the University-wide Planning and Assessment Council.
Dr. El-Sayed also dedicates significant time to giving back to the State of Michigan, “I do so because I am saving lives through traffic safety,” she said, “our goal is that everyone who uses our Michigan roadways arrives at their destination safely.” She is a four time gubernatorial appointee to the Michigan Truck Safety Commission, representing all four year colleges and universities. As a commissioner she has distinguished herself and twice was unanimously elected chair, nominated by the Commanding Officer of the Michigan State Police Traffic Safety Division. She also chaired the Drivers Education Advisory Committee for former the Secretary of State which provided the recommendations for the Driver’s Education Providers and Instructor’s Act of 2006. Similarly, she also chaired the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Committee; legislation based upon this is pending.
As a Muslim woman, Dr. El-Sayed has broken many stereotypes and barriers for all people regardless of gender or religion. Her commitment, energetic personality, and leadership skills were recognized by her community. Dr. El-Sayed has always been a person seeking to give back and contribute to the society around her, but running for any public office never crossed her mind–not until her community-members asked her to run. They saw in her the requisite intelligence, passion, and leadership skills, she continuously displays in all of her work. Dr. El-Sayed eventually agreed to take on the bold task of forming a campaign and running for public office for the first time.
Being a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, Dr. El-Sayed said one of her biggest challenges was getting over the fear and apprehension of how she thought people might react to her, “I wasn’t sure if a Muslim woman could win”, said Dr. El-Sayed; but if she could, it would serve as inspiration for others to dream big and think outside of the box when reaching for goals that they may have deemed “out of reach”.
Maybe it was divine providence leading up to this moment in which Dr. El-Sayed was nominated for a highly competitive national recognition: the American Council on Education Fellows program, a fellowship offered to those in the field of education who have shown great leadership abilities. The fellowship was geared to professional development, and could be likened to a MBA for those working in education. She was interviewed in Washington D.C. by five different university presidents before being accepted. This fellowship emphasized skills such as financial management, strategic planning, and public speaking. It was all in God’s plan that she went through this fellowship to develop the needed skills which would play a crucial role in her campaign for school board.
Dr. El-Sayed’s campaign committee was led by Muslim women just like herself. Active women who wanted to make a difference and contribute to their communities. This campaign led and run by Muslim women gives a stark contradiction to stereotypical ideas about Muslim women being oppressed and disempowered. “My family is very supportive of my work… I also have a very tight knit group of friends” said, Dr. El-Sayed when asked about balancing her busy work and family life. Dr. El-Sayed and her staff ran a victorious campaign inspiring women, Muslims, and all people to not give in to self-doubt but to face your fears and dream big.
Dr. El-Sayed has had positive interactions with her fellow board members and parents. She has said “I enjoy being a part of my community; we are inclusive, everyone looks at people as individuals. God guided me to be in a place where I can succeed”, and succeed she did. One of her most recent accomplishments was giving the opening invocation on the Michigan House Floor to open up the State House session. Feeling very “humbled to represent the Muslim community” Dr. El-Sayed gave a passionate invocation reminding the legislators and those in attendance of the unifying holy figures between the three Abrahamic faiths and that in times of difficulty, we seek God to overcome great hurdles.
Through her life Dr. El-Sayed has consistently worked to improve the lives of those around her. As a gubernatorial appointee to the Michigan Traffic Safety Commission and two-time elected chairperson, having earned a PhD to become a professor at a premier engineering university to educate the minds of the future, and recently being elected and serving as a Trustee on the Bloomfield Hills Board of Education, Dr. El-Sayed puts her ideas, energy, and enthusiasm into concrete action for the improvement of society.
“Change will only come by enacting our own principles; elected officials listen to those who vote; we should all be engaged in civic affairs and take action,” Dr. El-Sayed said, and take action is what she has done throughout her life with her passion, work ethic, and great achievements. God willing, she will inspire countless numbers more to do so, as well.